1. If a physician of high standing, and one’s own husband, assures
friends and relatives that there is really nothing the matter with one but
temporary nervous depression—a slight hysterical tendency—what is one to do?
. . .
So I take phosphates or phosphites—whichever it is, and tonics, and
journeys, and air, and exercise, and am absolutely forbidden to “work” until
I am well again.
Personally, I disagree with their ideas . . .
In this passage, which appears near the beginning of the story, the
main elements of the narrator’s dilemma are present. The powerful,
authoritative voices of her husband, her family, and the medical
establishment urge her to be passive. Her own conviction, however, is that
what she needs is precisely the opposite—activity and stimulation. From the
outset, her opinions carry little weight. “Personally,” she disagrees with
her treatment, but she has no power to change the situation. Gilman also
begins to characterize the narrator here. The confusion over “phosphates or
phosphites” is in character for someone who is not particularly interested
in factual accuracy. And the choppy rhythm of the sentences, often broken
into one-line paragraphs, helps evoke the hurried writing of the narrator in
her secret journal, as well as the agitated state of her mind.